Archive for October, 2011


October 29, 2011

Here are some new before-and-after thoughts.

  • I read the obituary of an American named William Niskanen today.  I had never heard of him, but I read it because he was intriguingly identified as a “libertarian economist”.  I learned that he served in the Council of Economic Advisers under Reagan, and that he was controversial because he spoke his mind bluntly, and therefore embarrassed the government.  Throughout his career, he took risky public positions, from condemning tariffs to calling for reduced public spending, and he seemed to like the attention he got whenever he leveled criticism at accepted policy.  The writer of the obit, David Segal, kept it simple and short, but he clearly admired the man.  I know that I want to know more about him.                             
  •  The obit included a fact, however, that reduced the lustre somewhat.  It mentioned a speech he gave before a women’s group, while he was in the Administration, where he opined that the reason women were paid less than men was because they interrupted their careers to raise a family.  Even in the eighties, though, this was debatable, but it is startling for another reason: it highlights how different our culture is today.  I think that today, more than at any time in history, women are raised to believe that they can become a competitive, even dominant force in the economy, and that they don’t have to sacrifice the dream of having a stable, rewarding family life.  I’m not saying that most of them will ever achieve that; the odds are against it.  But the odds are better today, I think, than it is for men.                                                                        
  • Here’s a TV note.  The recent episode on HBO’s “Bored to Death”, the one with Dick Cavett as a guest, reminded me that, with Larry David on hiatus, there was still a place you could find something that seems to have been abandoned by the rest of television: the good, old-fashioned belly laugh.                                                                                                                                           
  • I’ll keep you informed on the development of my new mobile application.  It’s called Re-Election?™.  It’s going to offer a convenient and simple guide to voters on whether to send that clown who’s currently in office back for another term, or to give another clown a chance.

His Bad Deal

October 17, 2011

   Whether you approved of the outcome or not, the conviction and sentencing of Michael Kimelman has a significance that goes beyond the facts of the case.  At least for me it does. Kimelman, if you haven’t been keeping up on these things, was convicted of conspiracy and two counts of securities fraud recently.  His was one of the federal cases stemming from the Galleon Group hedge fund scandal.  Last week, the head of the fund, Raj Rajaratnam, was sentenced to an eleven year prison term, which is the largest ever given in a hedge fund fraud case.

   Kimelman was never considered one of the major players.  Although the charges he faced could have led to a multi-decade term, he was offered a deal two years ago that would have meant no jail time at all.  But he wouldn’t plead guilty and, after the verdict, the judge sentenced him to thirty months and a large fine.

   For me, who doesn’t know the facts in detail, this was a disappointment.  Sure, he broke the law, and will have to pay.  I accept that.  In fact, I disagree with those who feel that insider trading, which is the gravamen of his offense, is a victimless crime.  When the market is rigged like that, some sap will lose money because he bought the shares that Kimelman needed to dump, and who wouldn’t have bought if he knew the truth.

   Still, what saddens me is that Kimelman wanted to fight.  He wanted to take on a system that is so overwhelmingly weighted against him that he takes on the aura of a hero, even if it is misapplied in his case.  You see, he inspires sympathy because of the deal itself.  I would have felt no sympathy if the feds had gone directly to trial, even if it resulted in a bigger sentence.  At least that would have shown the government’s commitment to the law, and to the truth. But, at least  in the prosecution of the law, the truth is a luxury the government gave up a long time ago, to its enrichment.  What counts now is making the deal, like the closing of a sale.  And they will stack all possible charges and permutations of charges to force the target to yield.  The law allows that.  Juries can now be offered a tasty buffet of charges, and it doesn’t matter if they are all derived from one stupid act…even the making a single phone call.  On top of that, they can add any “misstatement” told the police during the investigation, just as if that was equal to the original crime. 

   Still, while I can’t say that offering the deal was morally wrong, Kimelman’s conviction was repellent.   And I say that with absolute confidence that I could have found him guilty, if an objective review of the evidence demanded it, if I had served on his jury.  It is absolutely necessary to find the corruption and to stop it.  But the system  we have today has costs that I find unacceptable, and which are usually ignored.  Kimelman may not deserve my sympathy, but he was only targeted to cast him in a role in the larger drama.  You can be sure that the deal he rejected required his testimony against Rajaratnam, and perhaps others.  The government believes that threatening any accused person with outrageously exaggerated charges is a necessary part of its campaign against the “big fish” target, and it seems to work more often than not.  When a small player like Kimelman mistakenly thinks he can beat the system, whether due to blind egotism or bad legal advice, he can get a rude awakening.

   I hope that Kimelman is consoled by the fact that his decision has served the interests of the public, which has benefitted from its knowledge of the truth.  Not all of it, of course, due to limits under the rules of evidence, but surely more than we would have known without the trial.  I only mourn the hidden costs of this system.  We seem to have accepted the fact that merely charging an American with crimes is justified under a plain cost-benefit analysis.  Whether the charges are true or not seems to be irrelevant.

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